On average, each European citizen consumes about 26 kilos of textiles a year. This figure translates into the generation of more than 16 million tons per year in the European Union (EU) and, consequently, in a strong environmental impact due to the resources used for the creation of a single garment.
The severity of the situation is magnified when 73% of the materials used for clothing used for clothing are sent to landfills or incinerated and that less than 1% of fibers end up recycling.
The difficulty of textile recycling
Beyond the main focus of disclosure and education on recycling at the government level has focused mainly on the separation of organic waste and plastic materials, glass, cardboard and paper; the truth is that textile recycling is very difficult to enter.
It’s an element composed of different materials and garments, which gives a big technical complexity to the process. In fact, this is associated with the explanation of that meager 1% of fibers that manage to have a second opportunity mentioned above. Most of the elements that make up a garment must be recycled separately, which ends up leading consumers and industries to direct disposal.
However, the lack of an established collection scheme doesn’t help to advance the change in those percentages. Quite the opposite. In the same way that a collection and selection process has been set for other materials that, not many years ago, encountered an almost identical problem, it takes the same level of action and effort to start spinning the trend of recycling of textile fibers.
Separate collection of textiles to be mandatory by 2025
It would be really worrying if, now that we have entered the second decade of the 21st century, we were to remain inactive. But, although the task is arduous, steps have been taken and are being taken that invite us to trust in a change.
In May 2018, the EU approved the community regulation with which it set mandatory recycling targets for urban waste, with the horizon of reaching 65% in 2035. A regulation in which textiles were not left out, since, for full compliance, the collection of this waste will be mandatory from 2025.
Currently, post-consumer textile waste ends up, mostly, in specific collection containers – where the process of selection and classification of fabrics is manual – or at the entrance of the Urban Solid Waste (MSW) plants, where it represents about 10% of the total and ends up in the landfill. As for post-industrial textile waste, it usually ends up in manual sorting, shredding and further processing lines.
The European regulations, already in force, should change the route of all of them and improve all the percentages. And, in order for this to be achieved within the established tempos, an adequate classification must be ensured.
PICVISA, an expert in waste sorting and separation
Textile recycling is possible if fabrics are separated – and grouped – according to their composition: cotton, silk, wool or synthetics. Thus, as with other materials (the heterogeneity of fabrics is similar to that of plastics), making a correct classification is key.
At this starting point, the ECOPACK optical sorter and PICVISA’s ECOPICK robotic solution are allies. The equipment allows to automatically classify and separate various types of materials, by composition, color and / or shape.
Through NIR (Near Infrared) technology and new generation artificial intelligence (Deep Learning and Artificial Vision), ECOPACK is able to separate for example cotton, polyester, viscose, wool, polyamide, polyethylene, polypropylene, elastomers, acrylics and other materials.
Its versatility, flexibility and efficiency maximize the performance and results of the process. Something that textile waste management needs to get as close as possible to the goals of the very near future.
PICVISA has been designing, developing and producing sorting and classification equipment for recoverable materials for more than 18 years. A path that we continue to follow in line with our commitment to technology, sustainability and customer orientation.
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